Speaking with Legalsportsbook.com, former Liverpool and Newcastle defender Jose Enrique has looked back on 2022/23 season and given us his team of the season, ranked his best and worst signings and may have solved Man United’s long search for a striker in Real Madrid star Karim Benzema.
Who makes your team of the season? Please give us a couple of lines explaining why you have selected them
JE: ‘’GK: Allison – He has had a fantastic season for Liverpool. There is no chance Liverpool will have finished fifth if he wasn’t in between the posts. He was their best player.
“LB: Zinchenko – Both Arteta and Guardiola love this type of player – one that can cut inside and play as a midfielder. As a character he is like a captain of the team. I don’t know why Guardiola sold him, I think it was a mistake. It is between him and Estupinan from Brighton.
“RB: Trippier – Since he has arrived at Newcastle, he has gone into another level. He has helped Improve Newcastle from surviving in the Premier League to securing a top 4 spot. Without him, Newcastle wouldn’t be where they are today.
“CB: Sailba – With Saliba in that role, Arsenal will become Premier League Champions in the future. I think he is a top player. I love how he turned his career around after Arteta didn’t want him and sent him out on loan.
“CB: Van Dijk/Ruben Dias – Van Dijk hasn’t been his best this season at all. Ruben Dias has for sure helped Manchester City win the title this season. He is world class and makes a massive difference to Manchester City’s defence and you know you are secure when attacking. I don’t think he can be compared to Van Dijk in his prime, but they do share the same level of importance for their teams. Both Botman and Dunk were also shouts for the centre back roles.
“CM: Rodri – Rodri is the best number six in the world. I think he would play in any other team in the world as a number six.
“CM: Odegaard – I like to play with a left-footed player on the right and a right-footed player on the left. Odegaard has had an unbelievable season and I love him as a player. I actually trained with him at Liverpool when he was 16 years old, before he was called to Madrid. You could see that he was very talented, but it is not all about talent, it is about consistency and development as a player. Right now, he could play for his former club Real Madrid and make an impact.
“CM: KDB – Kevin de Bruyne is the best player in the world at the moment. You have to include him in the squad no matter what.
“ST: Harry Kane – Harry Kane has 30 goals this season and you need this goalscorer in your squad
“LW: Haaland – Haaland doesn’t normally play on the left side, but I will play him there anyway. Someone who has 36 goals in the Premier League should not be left out of the squad. He has been the best player in the Premier League. It is difficult because Harry Kane also shares his striker position. They can’t both play there but they should both be playing in this squad.
“RW: Saka – I will have to choose Bukayo Saka over Mo Salah – despite Salah’s brilliant second half of the season. I love Saka as a player, he has a great attitude, although he does need to boost his numbers up. The level he is performing at for his age is fantastic as well. Plus, he is a great guy and everyone loves him. He has been really good this season.’’
Who has been your Premier League player of the season?
JE: ‘’My player of the season is Erling Haaland. He also won young player of the season as well, so he has to be on everyone’s list. What he has done in one season is amazing. A lot of people thought that he wasn’t going to score goals, which wasn’t the case. I knew he was going to score goals, but 36 is crazy in his first season and at such a young age. Manchester City also had to adapt to a completely new style of striker. He is not like Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero before. Haaland is someone that will get on the last touch and put the ball in the goal. He is always there. In terms of quality, Kevin de Bruyne is the best player in the Premier League. However, for the season is Erling Haaland.’’
Who do you think has been the best/worst signing of the season?
JE: ‘’Casemiro has to be the Premier League’s best signing. At 30 years of age I did not expect him to be a flop. Someone who has won five Champions League’s is going to do well. Casemiro changed the whole Man United team completely. He’s definitely up there with some of the best. Going to Manchester United with a big transfer fee at 30 years of age is no easy feat. If you look at the team individually on paper, they are not that great – yet they finished in the top four. Players like Casemiro make a difference.
“Raheem Sterling would be considered to be the worst signing of the season. With players like Darwin Nunez and Antony, it is hard to call them a flop because they have only played one season. They have done good things for their teams so far, although some may say they expected way more. The same case can be made for Mudryk as Chelsea spent 100m on him and had little impact.
“In terms of Raheem Sterling, you can make a case for because he has experience in the Premier League, winning it with Manchester City numerous times. You expect him to go to London and make a bigger impact and give Chelsea a chance, however it wasn’t the case so the spotlight is on him more as an experienced player.’’
How disappointed are you by Liverpool’s failure to hit the top four?
JE: ‘’I predicted that Liverpool would miss out on the Champions League at the beginning of the season. My friends called me crazy, but I had a feeling. I’m not god, but people didn’t see the value in some of the players that departed from the squad such as Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino when they came off the bench and did their job. I’m happy that Liverpool finished fifth, because the quality of our season was terrible. I’m hugely disappointed because the bare minimum for Liverpool is the top four spot. It is going to be more difficult for Liverpool because more teams will compete now such as Brighton, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea. Liverpool went from competing for every single trophy to not even finishing in a Champions League place, it is sad.’’
Jurgen Klopp’s season has been described to have a ‘’seven-year curse’’ due to his previous stints as a manager for Mainz and Dortmund. What do you think this tells us about Klopp next season?
JE: ‘’I don’t believe in Jurgen Klopp’s curses to be honest. I think the season was poor, and I am surprised that Liverpool finished fifth. What we need to see in the summer from Liverpool to get back to the best is a massive rebuild. I don’t think they needed it last summer – maybe they needed two or three players. This summer they need to sign five experienced players. I am tired of hearing of young players no one has heard about, Liverpool need players for now and not someone who may be good in the future. But Klopp is the last person who should leave the club. He is an amazing manager.’’
Trent Alexander-Arnold has earned his recall back to the England squad after a recent miss. Should be playing midfield for the Three Lions too?
JE: ‘’Trent Alexander-Arnold hasn’t been good for the majority of the season. Though in the last stretch he has pulled out some great performances. He completely changed. The fans seem to be enjoying the role. When Liverpool don’t have the ball, he sticks in the right back position. However, when Liverpool do have the ball, he can be more central and have more options and better visions for the ball.
“I still stand by the fact that Trent is primarily a right back. He does have the skills to be a midfielder but he has to be more consistent with his defensive duties. He also needs to change his attitude and body language. I think that for two years at the ages of 19 and 20 he was the best right back in the world. You don’t all of a sudden become the worst because of one season. So this is something he needs to work on and develop. I don’t think he should start for England though. I can see Southgate can play him as a midfielder, but it should only be done against smaller teams to see if it works.’’
Should Ramsdale make a pitch to be England number 1 ahead of Euro 2024?
JE: ‘’Aaron Ramsdale should make his case to be England’s number one keeper. However, I don’t think it is going to happen. Gareth Southgate has been firm and made it very clear that he believes in Jordan Pickford as his number one choice. If you ask me, I would play Ramsdale over Pickford. He has done a fantastic job at Arsenal. I like his confidence with the ball, his vision for the game. He should be England’s number one but it may not happen.’’
Leicester have been relegated back to the championship, should players like James Maddison and Youri Tielemans be on the radar of your old clubs, Liverpool and Newcastle?
JE: ‘’Jamie Vardy’s age will make him unattractive to big teams like Liverpool and Newcastle – especially since Newcastle have players like Callum Wilson and Isak in his position so maybe it is the twilight years for Jamie Vardy.
“James Maddison has one more year on his contract and Youri Tielemans will be going on a free transfer. I love both players and both clubs should target these players. They are two players that play for either Liverpool and Newcastle. Maddison is a great player and for the right price, Liverpool should take him. Perhaps for Tielemans as he is on a free, if Liverpool don’t want him, Newcastle should definitely take him.’’
What are your predictions for the FA Cup final?
JE: ‘’In one game, anything can happen. But the favourites are Manchester City. They are trying to go for the treble and Manchester United are going to want to stop them. It would be a great season also for Man United if they do because they have won two trophies this season. If Man City are on their normal level, they will destroy Man United.
I think they will beat Man united 3-0. They are unstoppable at the moment.’’
If Erik ten Hag is able to secure a cup double will he have had a better season than Mikel Arteta?
JE: ‘’It is a bit unfair to compare it this way because no one would have told you at the beginning of the season that Mikel Arteta will take Arsenal to second place in the league. Not even Arteta expected to challenge for the title. Anyone would tell you he has been manager of the season.
“However, the case can be argued that Erik ten Hag will have had the better season because of the way Arsenal had dropped the title when it was in their hands. They drew three games in a row and dropped points. If Manchester United were able to finish top four and win two trophies in spite of the Cristiano Ronaldo saga, they would have had a better season. It doesn’t matter if they are the two domestic cup competitions – cups are always difficult to win.’’
Can Erik ten Hag be considered a hero for his transformation of Manchester United as of late?
JE: ‘’Erik ten Hag cannot be called a hero after just one season. If he replicates this next season then he will be up there with some of the better managers in the Premier League. It is true that Manchester United have the right man at the club now. He completes them, they may not be at their best, but they are only a few signings away from that.
“The fans may call him a hero because of the way he has transformed the dynamic as it hasn’t been good enough in the past couple of years. We can see the club coming back to what they once were. But to call him a hero – give him one more season.’’
What is your prediction for the final?
JE: ‘’Manchester City on their day destroyed Real Madrid. It is different from the FA cup final because even though Man City have been in the Champions League semi-finals for the last three years, they have never been considered favourites. Now they are after they beat Real Madrid. I think the players will handle the pressure, but I don’t know if they will win it. Italian teams are really difficult to beat – Inter Milan have been very good this season as well. But Manchester City on their day is the best team in the world.
“Grealish has stepped up and become one of Man City’s best players. Then you have Gundogan, Bernado Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez also. There are too many good players in that squad.
“I predict another 3-0 victory.’’
Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku has been on fire for Inter Milan as of late. If they win the Champions League, should he force a possible permanent transfer rather than return to Stamford Bridge?
JE: ‘’If Chelsea were still under Graham Potter, I would advise Lukaku to stay away, but maybe Mauricio Pochettino is the manager for him. I don’t think that he is Pochettino’s type of striker. I love Lukaku at his best, sometimes for Inter Milan his performances were not up to par. The problem with Inter keeping him is how much Chelsea will ask for him. I think right now Inter Milan want to keep him, if they can match Chelsea’s asking price. I don’t think Pochettino will ask for another player. If Inter win the Champions League, Lukaku will stay with them as he will become more important.’’
Is Nkunku arriving at Chelsea at the wrong time or can he help transform them?
JE: ‘’Christopher Nkunku is a player that can make all the difference at Chelsea. I don’t think he is a natural number 9 himself. He can improve a lot under that role and can even play as a striker at some point. Joao Felix hasn’t been as good as expected for Chelsea and Nkunku can help with that. With Pochettino he can play in that position as under him they can play the 4-3-3. I watched RB Leipzig a lot and I love Nkunku – but Chelsea do need more than Nkunku to be able to succeed next season.
“I don’t think he is going at the wrong time. When a big club calls you like that and will pay that fee. You can’t compare RB Leipzig to Chelsea. You can only hope that you will fight for big things like trophies and top four. It is the right move for Nkunku to go to Chelsea.’’
Declan Rice has reportedly been speaking to Thomas Tuchel about a possible Bayern move. Will Rice thrive in the Bundesliga like Bellingham?
JE: ‘’It will be very difficult for Declan Rice to thrive in the Bundesliga like Jude Bellingham because Bellingham was considered the best player in the Bundesliga this season and he is one of a kind. It will be very difficult to replicate that standard. It will either be Real Madrid or Manchester City who pick him up from Dortmund. At 19 years of age, he shows that he is so good. The way he manages the games and also the way he speaks is a testament to his character.
“I also like Declan Rice as well. He can do so well for Bayern Munich. I would love him at Liverpool or Manchester City – it may be difficult at City as they have Rodri there. He can play in a lot of teams around the world.
“Though Declan Rice is in his 20s playing a very good game, Bellingham is 19 years OLD doing wonders in the Bundesliga. You currently cannot compare West Ham and Borussia Dortmund right now.’’
Karim Benzema is set to leave Real Madrid in the summer. Which Premier League team should he have his last dance at?
JE: ‘’Karim Benzema is at the end of his career and it is very likely that he will go to Saudi Arabia. In a fantasy world I would love him at Liverpool. If we are being realistic, Manchester United needs him the most. Manchester United needs a number nine player. They are a massive club and one of the best in the world. Benzema will also link up with Casemiro and Varane who he has played with before also – so there is some familiarity. It is unlikely that he will come, but I would like him at Liverpool for one year.’’